Consultant recommends CNB application for Arkansas casino
An artist’s rendering of the Legends Resort and Casino that Cherokee Nation Businesses wants to build in Pope County, Arkansas. A consultant hired to judge the submissions of CNB and Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi recommended CNB for the license. COURTESY
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – During its rollercoaster journey to secure an Arkansas Racing Commission license to build a casino and resort in Pope County, Cherokee Nation Businesses got a recommendation from a consultant hired to judge the submissions of CNB and Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi.
The applications were assessed through numerical scoring by gaming consultant Jim Fox, owner of Fox and Fox Consulting of Phoenix. His recommendation was initially expected by June 30, but other legal and regulatory skirmishes on the casino issue took precedence.
Fox’s report is not binding, and it is expected the ARC will discuss how to award the Pope County license when it meets in August.
The ARC paid Fox’s firm $150,000 to score the applications, with the CNB subsidiary Legends Resort and Casino LLC receiving the recommendation. Fox pointed to CNB’s intent to build a $225 million casino within two years with no outside financial assistance.
“It is unfortunate that the commissioners didn’t have the benefit of access to this report prior to awarding scores to each applicant on June 18,” said Dustin McDaniel, attorney representing CNB. “But we will offer it as part of the record and hope that it is helpful when the commission meets next.”
The report arrived a week after the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated a Pulaski County circuit court decision disqualifying CNB for the license.
The Supreme Court, in its July 14 finding, said the Legends LLC could not be disqualified for an absence of casino gaming experience, and that CNB was qualified to apply under an amendment to the state constitution.
CNB requested an emergency writ of certiorari on July 8, asking the court to vacate the decisions of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox. The judge is not related to Jim Fox.
On July 2, Judge Fox referenced the constitutional amendment as he refused intervention status to Legends, calling it a new company with no casino experience.
Arguing for CNB, attorney Scott Richardson said the LLC was created by CNB and Legends – a global planning, sales and hospitality company – in August 2019 after endorsement of its application by the Pope County Quorum Court, and that the LLC worked in partnership with CNB.
CNB has operated casinos for decades, and it argued in its June 8 filing that the Quapaw Tribe received its permit to build a casino in Jefferson County after establishing a new LLC.
Judge Fox also denied a motion by Gulfside Casino Partnership for contempt that claimed the ARC broke its rules when it did not issue Gulfside a license within 30 days of an earlier ruling. He said his court had no jurisdiction over the deadline.
He ruled on March 24 that letters from local officials no longer in office, endorsing Gulfside for the license, were valid under the constitutional amendment.
CNB was not chosen during a June 18 meeting of the ARC to receive the casino license, with it instead going to Gulfside and its proposal for the River Valley Casino Resort.
On June 22, it was determined that the score for Gulfside submitted by ARC commissioner Butch Rice should be discarded, leaving CNB as the high scorer under the combined assessments of the other commissioners.
The scores given by ARC members, respectively for Gulfside-CNB, were: Denny East 94-88; Bo Hunter 94-79; Mark H. Lamberth 89-91; Steve Landers 90-100; Alex Lieblong 73-95; Michael Post 97-90; and Rice 100-29. The criteria scored included experience with casino gaming, the timeline for opening the venue, proof of financial stability and access to financial resources, and the proposal summary.